PR in a Pandemic: What the #@%! Do You Do by Integrate Agency

8/11 Webinar Recap: PR in a Pandemic – What the #@%! Do You Do?

A lot of brands have some form of a crisis strategy, but a global pandemic wasn’t probably a part of it. Even if a company did have a plan, no business was truly ready to face what has since unfolded. The reality is, we’ve never seen anything like this before, and everyone is struggling to navigate these uncharted waters. For PR professionals, we are constantly making sure our clients’ reputations aren’t impacted negatively by the current affairs, and that their company comes out on top in the eyes of their stakeholders. 

In our latest installment of Integrate’s Pivot, Don’t Pause webinar series, Amanda Spraque — a PR veteran of 15 years — expands upon her recent blog post, How to Pivot, Not Pause Your PR during the Coronavirus. She goes back to basics (which we recap below), honing in on the pure, bread-and-butter fundamentals of PR and how — despite these really strange times — these learnings are helping our clients’ stories stand out in a sea of chaotic noise. 

What is the True Value of PR Anyway?

Public relations ≠ publicity. 

It’s a common myth that PR’s only job is to secure media placements. While media relations is a really important part of PR, it is not “PR.” To us, we stick to the definition set by the Public Relations Society of America

“The strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics”

Publics are forever changing and we, as an agency, believe that the practice of PR must evolve with that shift. Go where your audience is, and use PR to encompass every communication technique that shapes and frames the public perception of a business. It’s a balancing act between reality and perception. This includes communication disciplines such as: 

  • Media relations
  • Corporate communications
  • Internal communications
  • Executive positioning
  • Crisis messaging 
  • Social media
  • Events (in person or virtual) 
  • Reputation management
  • Investor relations
  • Partnership marketing
  • Community relations
  • Influencer partnerships 

And much, much more. The end result? Stakeholders will trust your brand to do good by them, and whatever else they find important. 

Why is the Value of PR ‘Difficult’ to Measure?

For data gurus, it’s hard to see the value of PR because there isn’t always an immediate ROI. The true value that PR brings, lies in how it influences and shapes the attitudes, actions and behaviors of your stakeholders

Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Yes, we’re talking about that viral challenge where you dunk a bucket of ice water on your head that took social media by storm. The campaign’s intent was to raise awareness of ALS, a neurodegenerative disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but did much more than raise awareness. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge ultimately brought in $220 million worldwide to support research on ALS.

For brands, that shift in stakeholder sentiment can make or break a business. If a customer thinks poorly of your brand’s image, then they’re less likely to do business with you than with a brand whom they trust or know of their good reputation. That’s where PR ultimately shows up: in the balance sheets. 

How Has COVID-19 Changed the Way You Do PR in 2020?

For one, a lot of things that were considered appropriate pre-pandemic are no longer. Think about it through the lens of consumer products, such as cars. “You need this car!” doesn’t really seem appropriate right now. However, the car company can’t stop selling products — it’s a business at the end of the day that needs to make money. 

So, how do you balance the two: the need to make money to continue operations, while also being as sensitive as you can to the current affairs and maybe even achieve a greater purpose? 

That’s where PR comes into play. Here are some factors that have changed when it comes to conducting PR in your business.

Consumer Attitudes, Behaviors & Purchasing Habits Have Changed

According to a recent report from McKinsey & Company:

  • 40% of U.S. consumers are becoming more mindful where they spend money
  • 31% of U.S. consumers are changing to less expensive products to save money
  • 21% of U.S. consumers are doing more research in brands and products before buying

This means purse strings are tighter, competition is higher, and what people find about you online matters even more. Thus, how you communicate — whether that’s to customers or reporters — must also reflect this new landscape of consumption. 

Before reaching out to reporters, writing an email or press release, or posting on social media, ask yourself: 

  • How will this message resonate with my stakeholders?
  • What’s the clear benefit to my stakeholders (reporters, customers, investors, employees, etc.)? 
  • Why should they care? Will it save them time? Delight them? Save them money? Answer their burning questions?

If you’re unsure how to answer critical questions such as these, it might indicate you need to return to the messaging drawing board. PR is all about mutually beneficial relationships, after all — what you offer must benefit them as much as if not more than it benefits you. 

The Media Landscape is Almost All Virtual Now

Goodbye, coffee dates. Hello, Zoom chats. 

Maintaining relationships with reporters has changed significantly since the pandemic’s inception. Well before the coronavirus outbreak, various cuts to newsrooms have reporters overworked and underpaid. Now, millions of people are relying on them to relay important and accurate information about the current affairs. Hence, reporters won’t hop on a Zoom for a half-baked story. You must give them content with a clear benefit to their readers. 

Now, we realize it’s easier said than done. Figuring out how your company can truly benefit consumers, while also benefiting your business how you’d like is a tall task. But that’s ultimately the question that will get reporters to bite. 

You must not be self-serving in your efforts. 

Media Platform Preferences Have Changed

Today, PR “wins” involve more than traditional media placement. While media relations will always have an important place in PR, getting your message in front of your audiences take many paths, including: 

  • Writing an opinion editorial on a social issue or trend
  • Create owned content on your blog, LinkedIn or another platform that isn’t published through a news channel
  • Post on your Google My Business account
  • Emailing your customers, investors or internal audience with highly relevant information
  • Engaging customers on social media
  • Submitting and winning an award
  • Finding speaking opportunities for executives

Don’t Shy Away from Difficult Topics

It can be scary to speak out on difficult topics. Your entire reputation can potentially be at stake. However, according to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, 73% of consumers agree a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve conditions in communities where it operates. Moreover, the report found that 64% of all consumers are belief-driven buyers.

So, even though you may not want to speak out, it’s the expectation that your stakeholders want you to — and something we believe you should do as well. This is an opportunity for you to express your true passion for social causes such as the Black Lives Matter movement, wealth inequality, homelessness, water scarcity, food waste, climate change, workers’ rights, and more. 

However, you mustn’t use a social issue as a time to “score” your brand some points. The cause must truly and authentically align with your purpose as a company. You should never speak out on a social issue with the goal of increasing company revenue. Otherwise, you could severely hurt your reputation.

Ultimately, those who speak up, speak loud and speak right will be the ones that people remember.